I MISSED THE FIRST APPEARANCE of the wish-dragons, so I had to hear about them second-hand from my friend Boomer. He’d been feeling pretty mellow and not fit to drive, so he’d wandered down to the docks and started singing.
The moon hung low and full. Boomer said the sky filled up with streaks of light, one of which plummeted straight toward him. He caught glimpses of wings, of a snake-like tail, of bright, curious eyes, and he laughed in delight. As soon as he stopped singing, the creature flew away. When he made up another song to celebrate, another approached.
That was when Boomer phoned Big Mary. “There’re dragons on the docks,” he yelled. “You have to come see them! Bring Joe too.”
I could hear every word he said. Big Mary was Boomer’s girlfriend, and I was living on her hide-a-bed because I had messed up my hip and back in a construction accident. That night she was already in a mood over Boomer being out late. I thought he’d drunk dialed her, and they’d end up fighting.
Instead, her face turned soft. He was the only one who could ever melt her, and she was the only one who ever knew when to take him seriously. She said, “Joe’s not going anywhere tonight, Boomer. He just can’t.” I felt pretty small when she said that, but I couldn’t argue. I knew I was not getting off that couch.
That night I watched the news unfold online. The dragons appeared all over the world, and they approached anyone who sang. Often people who saw them said I wish I had a camera. Each time, a camera appeared and the dragon vanished. That’s how we found out they could grant wishes.
I wanted so badly to look for one myself. I’d wish away my injuries. Ever since my accident, I’d felt helpless and worthless, and I was tired of being in pain. I’d been spending too many hours lying on Big Mary’s couch doing nothing.
Then I saw a YouTube video by a man who wished for a million dollars. He said as soon as he spoke, the dragon started to scream. It splintered and fractured like a piece of shattered glass until nothing was left but dust.
That man looked haunted. He said he’d never forget the creature’s dying cry. But millions of listeners took away a different point: you had to measure out your wish, so it was just small enough. Web sites tracked which wishes got granted and which didn’t, and everyone waited for the next full moon.
I figured fixing my body ought to be small enough. Then I thought of that dragon screaming and hated myself a little.
* * *
Boomer can always be counted on not to spoil anyone’s dumb plan, but I was afraid Big Mary would tell me to be sensible. Instead, she just said she wasn’t going to let Boomer and me get in trouble without her. They loaded me into Boomer’s truck, and we drove to a beautiful spot by Chuckanut Bay.
“Will you sing with me?” I asked.
“Are you sure you want us to?” Big Mary asked. “What if our song muddies up yours?”
“I’m sure.” I didn’t dare say their song only ever made mine shine brighter.
We were halfway through “Worried Man Blues” when the moon rose. Not long after, a dragon came streaking down. It shimmered in the moonlight just like Boomer had said. I stared until he nudged me.
I said, “I wish for you to have my wish.” The wish-dragon glowed silver, and I knew my wish was small enough. Then it streaked upward into the dark and vanished. Four more streaks raced toward us, though none of us were singing. That’s when I knew I was doing the right thing. Those things could communicate, which meant they could think.
“I’ll be damned,” Boomer whispered. He reached for his phone.
Big Mary grabbed his arm. “Are you about to tweet this?”
“Sure, gotta spread the word.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Don’t you aw-honey me! You know how nuts people have gotten over this! Don’t you let anyone find out what we’re doing, or they’ll kill us!”
I discreetly pulled out my phone. Big Mary lectured Boomer while I checked Twitter.
“Word’s already out,” I said. “I’m not the only one who had this idea.”
“Good! Let some other sucker get blamed. But we better keep at it.”
A host of dragons circled us impatiently. Big Mary, Boomer and I freed them as fast as we could. More flooded in until the sky turned silvery-gold from the light of their passage. We freed dragon after dragon, and with each departure, I thought about all the things I wanted and couldn’t have.
* * *
I wish, I thought. I wanted so many things. Peace on earth. An end to hunger, poverty, and war. Somebody who would love me the way Boomer and Big Mary loved each other. The wish-dragons couldn’t give me any of those things but one: an end to being in pain.
I wanted that wish so badly I could taste it. I found it harder and harder not to ask. Each time a wish-dragon came, I fantasized that it would grant my desire despite my silence, but none of them did. I had no way of knowing how many would come so that each one could have been my last chance. I pitted my heart’s desire against the scream of a wish-dragon dying, and I stayed strong.
We freed one after another until finally, the flood slowed to a trickle. I drifted off at some point and woke near morning. That’s how it ended, with the three of us watching the sun rise while Boomer softly sang the blues. Say whatever you like about humanity; sometimes we do okay.
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